Jane Smiley is the first author I ever met. Ever laid eyes on. I was a sophomore at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (or was I a junior?), and I'd won an essay contest at school. Smiley was invited in as the author who gave an address at the awards ceremony, then handed each of us our award certificates and envelopes containing checks with the award money. (I totally entered for laundry quarters.) I thought her reading (from Moo) and remarks were interesting, but I remember a twinge of disappointment that when I met her, she was a normal human, like me. Both of us had to choose, reluctantly, what to wear that day. Both of us felt vaguely awkward at the ceremonial requirement that we shake hands on a stage and she hand me a paper. I think I wanted her to have a visible, glowing authorial aura. Perhaps the discovery that she didn't was a step on my path toward thinking, heck, maybe I could write a book, too.
Reading 13 Ways unveiled the aura in all its luminosity. I'm mesmerized by the flow of her insights into the novel, at the precision of her thinking, and by both the profundity and the obvious validity of her multifaceted perspectives on this thing I've always loved and now devoted my career to. Am I gushing? I don't care.
On page 86, Smiley catalogs a long list of the "many pleasures a novelist has to offer" (slight paraphrase). I reached for my notebook to write them down and mull upon them. I don't presume she meant her list to be exhaustive. In any case I found myself listing a few additional pleasures, meaningful to me, that weren't listed. I hope they're distinct from those that are already there. And I wondered, gentle readers, what have I missed? What other pleasures do you take in books that don't appear on the Smiley-Berry list? (Egads.)
Jane Smiley's List of Pleasures to be Found in the the Novel:
- the unusual pleasure of the exotic
- the intellectual pleasure of historical understanding
- the humane pleasure of psychological insight into one or more characters
- the simple pleasure of entertainment and suspense
- the exuberant pleasure of laughter and trickery
- the guilty pleasure of gossip
- the tempting pleasure of secrecy and intimacy
- the confessional pleasure of acknowledged sin and attempted redemption
- the polemical pleasure of indignation
- the rigorous pleasure of intellectual analysis
- the reassuring pleasure of identifying with one's nation or people
- the vicarious pleasure of romance
Her use of descriptive adjectives is strategic here; we'd have a much weaker grasp on what she's trying to say the novel actually does in our human brains if we merely listed the pleasures without hinting at what they do to us.
Here are few more that occurred to me as I took my diligent school-girl notes.
Julie Berry's Addenda to Jane Smiley's List of Pleasures
- the sensual pleasure of place and atmosphere
- the emotion-coloring pleasures of mood
- the romantic pleasures of bucolic nature, heroism, idealism, and social simplicity
- the nostalgic pleasure of a remembered past
- the subversive pleasure of lunacy and nonsense
- the deductive pleasure of puzzle-solving, code-breaking, and mystery-unraveling
- the existential pleasure of nothingness, the vertigo of eroded ego in a vast, unfeeling cosmos
- the cynical pleasure of irony
- the erotic pleasure of horror
- the spectator pleasures of vicariously but safely experiencing violence and combat
- the aesthetic pleasure of savoring any literary excellence found therein
- the therapeutic pleasure or catharsis of release, identification, and/or empathy
- the obsessive pleasure of infatuation with a character or a group of them
It's not a bad gig, really, being in the business of offering a platter of pleasures to readers the world over. I can think of worse jobs.
I'm neither judging nor sneering at any of these pleasures. All are valid and available. Have I overlapped? Have I strayed off the rails? What pleasures have I missed?